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Using a Camera by Dave Nestler

Fig1 11 767x1024 How to Draw with David Nestler—No. 14 (Using a Camera)

Fig. #1

I’ve been pretty happy with the progression of this How To article. We started with simple basics and moved on to more dedicated and specific tattoo tips and techniques, all with the intention of providing you with more ammunition to add to your artistic arsenal. I could keep going on this same path, adding even more obscure tips and observations that I employ in my drawings and paintings, in the hopes of making you a better tattoo artist. But I believe this column would be better served by going back to the beginning, starting with the basics and expanding on each subject much more than I did in prior issues.

Let’s start with the first thing you’ll need for the development of a great drawing or painting; and that’s photo reference. If you’ve been an ongoing reader, you know that this is a particular pet peeve of mine, and I’ve been beating you to death issue after issue about the quality of your photo references and how important they can be. And since I am a pinup tattoo artist, let’s talk about shooting people for reference. It’s no mystery I paint pretty girls for a living, and all my paintings are based on real models. So, for me, a good clean, hi-res photo is absolutely necessary, if I’m going to capture the likeness of the subject I’m drawing or painting.Fig22 How to Draw with David Nestler—No. 14 (Using a Camera) 

Let’s be clear, I’m not a photographer. I don’t know my aperture from my F-stops, but we’re not shooting for print here, we’re shooting for reference. A photographer shooting for print will take hundreds of shots to get that “ONE” image. As a tattoo artist, I just need something clean and in focus to draw from. For this example, let’s look at the cover I did for the June 2009 issue of Skin&Ink (Fig.1) featuring world-class fitness model Jamie Eason. The idea was for a summer/ beach/ bikini/ surf theme suggested by the original Coppertone ad, with the little girl and the dog, from the ’60s.

Since continually on the road doing tattoo conventions, I shoot out of hotel rooms. No fancy studio, no professional lighting or backdrops. Just me and my ten megapixel Canon Rebel set on automatic with an internal flash. Remember, this is for reference, not print. I need two things for reference when I shoot: a full body shot and a good facial pic. I shoot them separately, so as not to rely on that “ONE” shot where both are perfect. And with the benefits of a digital camera, I don’t have to wait for film development anymore. I can shoot a dozen pics, review them and, if I don’t like what I see, I can delete them and start over.

Fig3 How to Draw with David Nestler—No. 14 (Using a Camera)

Let’s look at Fig. #2. I have the idea in my head as to what I want, so I shot Jamie in that position, remembering to fill the frame and get the image as large as I can. This makes for a more detailed image later, when I output it. Once I’m happy with the body positioning, I close in and shoot for different facial expressions (fig. #3). It’s amazing how much difference there is by simply moving the face up and down just the smallest amount. It’s just a matter of choosing one from “Column A” and one from “Column B.” Combine the best of both and you’ve got the perfect reference.

Quick Tip: When your combining the face from one picture to the body of another, it’s easy just to eyeball it. A good measuring tip, in order to get them dead-on, is to measure the distance from the hairline to the tip of the jaw and adjust that equal the distances of your other pic. In preparing this piece, I did a third shot, a separate pic of the hand ( Fig. #4 ), just so I have a large clear pic to work from.

Fig4 How to Draw with David Nestler—No. 14 (Using a Camera)

Fig. #4

There’s no real science behind this. It’s just clarity. A good, clean hi-res photo makes your job so much easier.


"Tattoo Tips and Techniques"

Tattoo Aftercare

Tattooing isn’t just magically creating new colors and designs on a client’s skin. It’s forcing colored ink beneath their skin by piercing it repeatedly with needles. It is art-by injury, perhaps not to the same degree as piercing or more obscure body art such as branding, but still, you cause bodily trauma in order to make a tattoo.

As with any wounds, this means that care must be taken to ensure they heal cleanly and quickly

Unfortunately, the recommendations on just how to do this vary from artist to artist, but almost all agree a bandage should be used. Some tattoo artists, reportedly, use saran wrap to cover wounds, but this is actually a rather bad idea. Wounds need to breathe, and such a wrap becomes a haven for bacteria!

Tattoo Model

A closer look at the bandages…

One of the matters of real contention, however, is in how long the bandages should be left on. Some recommend definitely taking the bandages off after an hour. Others say, instead, that the bandage should be left on for at least two hours. Each tattooist passes on what has worked for their clients, or at least what they were taught during their training. Given that most of the time, only really poorly cared for tattoos will have any real problems, there is likely a large amount of flexibility in the timing of the particular details.

Another near-universal recommendation is, whether after one hour or over two, when the bandage is removed, the area must be cleaned with a mild antibacterial soap and water…

It is important that this soap is not too harsh or drying, as this could irritate the tattoo wound. This must be done regularly, cleaning off any blood, plasma, and dirt that might have accumulated. Some, however, suggest that you avoid any hot showers, or anything else that could cause the pores to open up too much, and possibly allow water infiltration or ink loss. If a client does need to take a shower, it is best to protect the tattoo from direct exposure to the spray for the first few days. Submerging the tattoo in a bath or pool should be avoided for at least two weeks. Ocean water should be avoided until it is fully and truly healed. New tattoos should also be kept out of direct sun as much as possible.

Whenever the tattoo is cleaned, which should be regularly, a clear, fragrance-free ointment should be applied…

It should be stressed that the ointment needs to be fragrance-free, as fragrance compounds can be irritants, and you definitely don’t want to do anything to encourage irritation in a new tattoo. Ointments are best to use during the first stage of healing, but once scabbing and peeling begin to occur,  this needs to be changed to a lotion.

While excessive scabbing can be a sign of a poorly done tattoo, some is inevitable. Piercing the skin causes blood seepage into the wounds, and as they heal, some of this congealed blood will be pushed out and dry. In addition, the heavily damaged top level of skin will not shed normally, so as the skin heals it will shed in large pieces, which can be unsightly and disturbing. Rest assured, this is a normal part of the healing process. Continue cleaning and using moisturizers as normal, and it will pass quickly once the top layer has been shed and the skin renewed.

 photo 552493_419245294778748_1948036345_n_zps3027d46d.jpg

There are indications to watch out for, which show that medical care should be sought…

While some scabbing is to be expected, excessive scabbing is an indication of undue injury, and greater risk of infection. Seeping and inflammation are signs that an infection, or at least an unusual reaction, has already begun, and medical care is critical to prevent further health problems, or damage to the tattoo. A rash is also a sign of worse inflammation, as well as a strong indicator of irritation or even allergic reaction to the inks. Such reactions are especially common with red pigments.

All the safety measures in the world, while tattooing, won’t protect a client if these measures aren’t followed. If you want your tattoo art to last, the utmost care must be taken. Fortunately, major tattoo problems are pretty rare, and the steps are simple and common-sense. Make sure, if someone is willing to pay the time, pain, and money to get a tattoo, they’ll be willing to give the really minimal care needed to  keep it.

via Tattoo 101

The Different Styles and Techniques of Tattooing

Learning how to become a tattoo artist means learning a lot of different styles and techniques.  While it’s tempting to want to jump in with both feet to try a little of everything at once, tattooing is like any other art form. You need to learn basic skills and them build on them as your abilities and confidence grow.

As you work through your apprenticeship, you will develop skills in all of these areas, not to mention learning about all kinds of fascinating techniques that others are using to make their art stand out and to make their customers happy.

There are great techniques out there for adding light an luminosity to your pieces, or for adding texture that looks realistic, for example.

But first, the aspiring tattoo artist will want to learn the basics:


Outlining, or lining, is the technique used to create a basic shape on skin.  Usually done with a round group of needles, lines can vary from very thin to quite thick.  Sometimes, tattoo artists choose to “build up” lines by using multiple passes very close together to make a  thicker line.

While lining is certainly a basic tattooing skill, it is also a very important one.  Even lines are necessary for a smooth, professional tattoo.  They also give important definition to the design.  Lining doesn’t only have to be done with black ink, like the outline in a coloring book.  You can also use color with your round liner to define a particular area of a design.


Coloring is the term used for filling in areas of the design with color.  This may or may not include using black ink, although some artists refer to all blank ink work as ‘shading.”  Depending on the effect you want with your coloring, you may choose from a variety of techniques.  Sometimes you may choose to use a series of small overlapping circles to fill in a space.  In other cases, you may choose to sweep the needle across the skin with varying pressure to create more of a shading effect.

Coloring is usually done from darkest to lightest, rather than working from one side of the tattoo to the other.  This is done for a couple of reasons.  First, this keeps the darker colors from accidentally mixing with the lighter ones.  Also, the needles, tube, and tips will have to be cleaned between colors, and you wouldn’t want to have to do so every five minutes.


Tattoo Shading is one of the things that can really make a tattoo artist.  Someone who is good at shading creates images that have depth and are interesting to look at.  Shading is usually done with black ink, and there are different techniques you can use to create darker or lighter shadows.  For example, you can start with heavier pressure at the beginning of a stroke, lightening your touch as you lift the needle off the skin at the end of the stroke.

There are other methods for creating a lighter shade, too.  Some artists will add white to black to make a custom gray.  Others choose to add more water or other fluid to their black.  Of course, the shade matters, but so does the artist’s understanding of how light falls and how to translate that into a tattoo.


Many people are interested in tattoos that include words, so being skilled at lettering can be a major bonus for a tattoo artist.  Trends change, but something that seems to remain fairly constant is the desire to include names or quotations into tattoos.  Creating nice tattoos that incorporate lettering requires you to understand concepts such as the spacing required to lay words out in an attractive way, as well as the form and function of the letters themselves.

A word to the wise when it comes to lettering: use a dictionary!  Too many times, someone leaves a tattoo shop thrilled with their new ink only to have the next person they see point out that something in the design is spelled wrong.  In addition to using a dictionary, have the client sign off on the spelling before you put the needle to skin.

These are just a few of the styles and techniques that a tattoo artists needs to become familiar with, but they do provide a good foundation upon which to build other skills.


How to Draw with Dave Nestler: All the Better to Trace You With, My Dear

FIG.1 copy1 How to Draw with Dave Nestler: All the Better to Trace You With, My Dear

Fig. #1


When a certain market becomes trendy, popular or just brought more into the public consciousness, someone will be there to exploit, cash in or capitalize on the blossoming of that market. In the four short years I’ve been entrenched in the tattoo world, and especially on the convention circuit, I’ve noticed this boom. Especially when it comes to tools and materials. I’ve watched the classic tattoo machine evolve to Numas, rotaries and even wireless machines. Really? Wireless? I’m all for choice, but with choice comes decision-making. With the availability of so much new product and equipment on the market, there is little time to get comfortable with one tool before a new one is introduced. Remember what I said: “Familiarity breeds consistency.” And it’s the comfort level achieved with a certain tool that allows you to be more consistent in the development of your technique. Thank goodness I work in a market where my materials really haven’t changed that much. A pencil is a pencil is a pencil, and the brush hasn’t changed much since DaVince was in short pants. That being said, I’m all for building a better mousetrap, but until the time comes that a wireless, Pentium, chip driven paintbrush is introduced, I’ll stick with what’s been working for me for twenty-five years.

Fig.2 copy1 How to Draw with Dave Nestler: All the Better to Trace You With, My Dear

Fig. #2

I talked in length awhile back about pencil lead and paper. I briefly touched on materials used when tracing. Well, I want to expound on that a bit, as here is where technology has built the better trap. We all use tracing paper, to trace with. It’s cheap, plentiful and allows us to copy what we see underneath, with ease. It’s also fragile, tears easily and doesn’t react well to over usage. Years ago, I discovered drafting film. It’s a one- or two-sided, frosted acetate, extremely durable and even more translucent than tracing paper! For the next couple columns, I’ll be showing you the development of a sketch from start to finish. For my reference, I’ll be using a photo I took of Rachael Leuderalbert, who won the “Miss Pinup” contest at the Jacksonville Tattoo Expo this past year. For this current issue I want to show you the difference in transparency from tracing paper to film. Fig.#1 is a photo of Rachael that I’ll be using for my sketch. In Fig.#2, I covered the left half of the picture with tracing paper, and drafting film on the right half. As you can see, there is a noticeable difference between the two.

Fig.3 copy1 How to Draw with Dave Nestler: All the Better to Trace You With, My Dear

Fig. #3

So, what are the benefits to this? Primarily, I am able to see more detail in my photo and capture that detail in my tracing. However, there is a downside to working with film: it’s a lot more expensive. So, it wouldn’t be something I would use to trace tribal designs off a flash sheet. Instead, I use it for my more intricate work. As in Fig#3, you’ll see that I am able to create a tracing, capturing every detailed element with relative ease. There are all kinds of advantages to using all kinds of materials. Sometimes it’s faster. Sometimes it makes certain aspects of your work easier. Ultimately, it’s the tools you’re comfortable with that will benefit you. And the only way to do this is to test the out. Starting with the next issue, we’ll follow the development of Rachael’s sketch from start to finish touching on all aspects along the way. Gentleman, start your pencils.

Note: Most art stores carry drafting film. If you are having problems locating it, email me and I’ll let you know where you can find it online. —Dave Nestler (Contact Dave at

Tattoo Convention Booth Set-Up by Larry Brogan


Most tattoo conventions provide a space for two working artists approximately ten feet by ten feet, but that can vary by a couple feet in either direction. You will usually have two long narrow tables, one to tattoo from and a front table to showcase and display your tattoo portfolio, original artwork, paintings, prints, tattoo machines, T-shirts and any other items and promotional material you choose, provided they are permitted by the promoters and local law.

larrybroganfeature1 Tattoo Convention Booth Set Up—By Larry Brogan—Part 1

Always be sure to have an ample supply of business cards or stickers with your name, web address and contact information printed on them, for people to grab. Convention attendees always love free giveaways such as pens, stickers, CDs and even candy, so having any of these can help draw more potential clients to your booth.

Bringing your own tablecloth can be a nice touch, to help give an impressive presentation that will be more eye catching and make you stand out among the many other booths in the aisle. A trip to a local fabric store will give you countless options for colorful and crazy table cloths, and be sure to check into the Halloween fabrics, where you will find some fun and festive designs.

Tattoo Convention Booths by Larry Brogan Issue 12 Photo 21 300x196 Tattoo Convention Booth Set Up—By Larry Brogan—Part 1

Your booth normally contains two artist chairs and two client chairs as well as one garbage can. The quality of the chairs varies from padded, stackable banquet chairs to flimsy plastic folding chairs, which are mostly useless and very uncomfortable. The padded banquet chairs can be used in many configurations, such as stacking two or three high in order to reach a clients leg or lower back more comfortably or side by side, to lay someone horizontally, for areas such as ribs, underarms and hips. If you happen to by driving to the show, bringing your own office chair and/or client chair or even a massage table can be very helpful.

Tattoo Convention Booths by Larry Brogan Issue 12 Photo 1 300x183 Tattoo Convention Booth Set Up—By Larry Brogan—Part 1

Many convention halls are very dark or you may be stuck in some dark corner of the room. I often bring two small clamp-on halogen lights that I attach to the top of the pipe and drape, behind the booth. You will need an extension cord at least six feet long, with at least two outlets, to be able to plug them into your power strip. Your booth will be much better lit than most others, making it stand out more among the rest. You can buy these simple lights at hardware stores and home improvement stores such as Home Depot, for around ten dollars each. Warning: lights get extremely hot, so unplug them at night and especially in advance of taking them down at the end of a show, or you will burn yourself.

Tattoo Convention Booths by Larry Brogan Issue 12 Photo 3 300x296 Tattoo Convention Booth Set Up—By Larry Brogan—Part 1

Your convention banner is the equivalent of flying your county’s flag overhead. Having on that is awesome and eye-catching will bring you more exposure. When sharing a booth with one or more artists, you must keep in mind that there needs to be enough room for each artist to display their banner and enough space for items like flash, prints and T-shirts. I have found that a banner two-to-three-feet wide by four-to-five-feet high is the best overall fit for a booth containing two artists. Any longer and you will loose the lower portion behind the work table, and any wider runs the risk of crowding your booth mate. While it is quite easy these days to get inexpensive banners printed with any images and info you need, hand painting yours will help show your own artistic talent and just might earn you respect from your peers.

—Larry Brogan, Tattoo City, Lockport, Illinois

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark by David Nestler

fig12 How to Draw with David Nestler Lesson 11Since last issue’s lesson on composition, we’ve begun to stray from the original flavor of this series, which has been to focus on drawing techniques. But the completion of a great sketch isn’t always how well you draw eyes or your technique. There are plenty of other ways to enhance your drawing or painting that have nothing to do with the size of your pencil. But this isn’t about Viagra, it’s about “contrast,” and not just the dark/light thing. Contrast can be used to isolate and enhance, as well as detract. Planned out prior to execution, contrast can be used to optically steer a viewer’s eye towards a certain part of a drawing… or even away from it. “Isolation.” ”Monochromatic Tone.” These are just a couple terms we’ll explore in upcoming issues. Oh, and don’t bother looking these terms up in your art instruction books. I’m making them up as I go along. Makes me sound smarter. But I will explain what I mean.fig341 How to Draw with David Nestler Lesson 11

For now, let’s look at the dark/light benefits of contrast. There’s nothing wrong with a nice soft sketch. Take a look at Fig. 1 & 2. Simple, soft, very nice. Not a whole lot of punch to it, though. Now take a look at Fig. 3 & 4. Stark, crisp. Definitely a lot more dramatic than the previous two. And it’s nothing more than making your darks darker, and your lights lighter that gives you that drama. That’s contrast. It’s just a smaller range of tones.

Now, who’s to say this is appropriate every time? It’s not. Contrast is just another tool. If my photo reference depicts a girl with light-brown hair wearing a tan shirt laying in the sand, there is no contrast. And my drawing probably would not benefit by adding any. But if my photo reference is of some punk rock/goth/raver chick with coal-black hair and skin the color of 2% milk… you get the idea.

fig5 How to Draw with David Nestler Lesson 11Remember, there are lots of tools and techniques available. It’s great to know them, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them. You pick and choose, when to use a certain tool or technique. But the bigger your arsenal, the better your options. And the better the execution.

Now, let’s take a look at a more extreme use of contrast. In Fig. 5, Robyn’s got great eyes and lips, and that’s what I want you to see. So I’ve eliminated almost all mid-tones and really boosted the lights and darks to the point where it’s almost solid black and white. A little dramatic, but still makes for a dynamic piece, when completed. And all I did was boost the contrast.

Planning out a piece is as important as drawing it. Dissecting your photo reference allows you to pick and choose your tools and techniques, as it applies to your reference. It’s all about what to focus on and what’s most important.

Contact Dave at

Everyone’s Skin is Different by Madame Lazonga

Tattooing on the skin is a never-ending learning process. Just when you think you have it down, whamo, something unexpected happens, and the challenging part is, there’s a person connected to it. I always joke around and say, “Can you please leave your skin here and pick it up in a few hours?” As most of you tattooers know, it’s a challenge moving and contorting to get into the right position to get the ink in the right way, let alone all the skin differentials you need to deal with. It is just one of the variables that make tattooing such an interesting and difficult media for artists to explore.

tattoo photos 015 1024x765 Everyones Skin is DifferentOne thing that I never thought about until recently is, when a person loses and gains weight over an extended period of their lives, it will tend to make the skin much thinner, therefore making it more fragile to tattoo. You can’t see the thickness with your eyes, of course, so there’s no way to tell except when you start tattooing. When people ask me for estimates, I usually tell them that it’s hard to give an exact price because, depending on their skin type, what would take me an hour on one person might take me an hour and a half on another. There is absolutely no way to tell until you sit down and begin to work.

Once you get started, you can get the feeling for the skin and how you need to go about adjusting your equipment and techniques. When working over any bones, I always turn the machine down as far as I can. Working over the waist is perhaps the most challenging, because it’s where the anatomy has the most elasticity. You often have to expend a lot of energy to properly stretch the skin. This means you often have to bring out the contortionist in them and have the client lie with a pillow under their waist with an arm reaching above their head, in order to stretch the skin out as much as possible.

tattoo photos 0731 205x300 Everyones Skin is DifferentIMG 6107 148x300 Everyones Skin is DifferentSkin is such an amazing organ and something that tattoo artists need to be intimately acquainted with. A newer complication is overly tanned skin. When I was growing up in Seattle, I remember tanned skin meant you went to Hawaii on vacation. This was back when they didn’t have suntanning machines. In high school, all the rich kids would go to Hawaii for winter vacation or spring break, and all of us less fortunate kids would look up to them in awe. Now, as you know, having tanned skin tends to make you look a lot older than you are, unless you use a lot of antiaging products. I have to say, it is not easy to tattoo tanned skin. After years of tanning, the structure of the skin changes. The skin looses its elasticity, with many fine little lines below the surface, almost like fissures or cracks. Tattooing on this kind of skin is very scary (for me) because, when I lay the needle to begin to tattoo, I see a little bit of fuzziness surrounding the actual line. It looks like the skin is cracking. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Tanning excessively without continuously using #45 or #50 sun block will also definitely fade the color and permanently damage your tattoo. In general, UV light is just not good for your skin, with or without a tattoo.

If your shop is like ours, we guarantee our work, and a touch-up that is done within the first year of the tattoo’s life is free. We are realistic, in that small issues can arise when a client is healing, and being willing to fix these small areas, as part of our service, is reassuring to the public. Therefore, when we are discussing price, we keep in mind that some parts of the body heal hard, like the hands and feet, and we charge accordingly, since we will often end up spending time doing a touch up.

IMG 6038 152x300 Everyones Skin is Differenttattoo photos 109 300x229 Everyones Skin is DifferentWhat really causes artists headaches is when clients don’t follow instructions or don’t take care of their tattoos or their skin, in general. This causes damage to the tissue, scarring and possible loss of color. Recently, we had a person leave the shop who didn’t wash their tattoo for a week after they left. They didn’t read the instructions that were given to them, and they didn’t remember a word of the verbal instructions their artist gave, so you can imagine what happened to their tattoo. The image scabbed over more than usual and lost a lot of the color. I know that when people leave the shop after they’ve received their tattoo, they’re usually spaced out. That’s why it’s even more important that the tattooer go through everything the person needs to know before they leave. In Seattle, it’s the law that all tattoo shops verbally explain the healing instructions as well as pass out written instructions. I know that every shop has different instructions, but it’s important for the recipient to carefully follow the aftercare guidelines if they want the best healing results. The artist is only trying to help them through the healing process, even if the instructions are different from the last artist the client worked with.

I get so many people who come into my shop price shopping. There’s a faction of the public that goes from shop to shop looking for the lowest price, thinking that we are all the same. Price shoppers need to know that every shop is different, and the prices charged are equivalent to their expertise, their years in the business and what they’ve done to establish their standard of achievements in the tattoo community. Being able to talk to the public and educate them is an invaluable part of being in the business. For example, if a shop has a sign that says, “Names $25,” and you are price shopping, you should stop to think that the sign doesn’t provide any information about how big the name will be, what style and where it will go on the body. Often, this kind of sign means the shop does production-style tattooing, and they’re set up to do that kind of work. They probably have several sets of tattoo machines ready to go, one right after the other.

In the end, we all need to be mindful that tattoo shops and artists are as different as their clients. Our profession must take into consideration a myriad of variables when going about our work, skin being just one. Hopefully, as the clientele becomes more savvy, they can make better choices regarding their tattoos and, in the end, wear their art proudly—covered in SPF 45, of course.

—Your sister in tattooing

Vyvyn (Madame Lazonga)

Mapping Out Large Scale Projects by Larry Brogan

Clear contact paper or shelf liner can be purchased at most home improvement centers, kitchen and bath shops and even many grocery stores. Just ask where the shelf liner/contact paper is. It is nothing more than a clear, thin, flexible sheet of plastic with a sticky side to it, and comes in a roll like wrapping paper. This stuff comes in handy, when planning large tattoo designs and for cover-up work. It is best to shave the clients’ skin and wipe it down with a little alcohol, to remove any oils or soap.
largescaletattoo1 Mapping out Large Scale Tattoo Projects
For general tattoo layouts, I use colored markers to trace out the muscle and bone contour, bends, creases, joints and center lines of whatever body part I am working on and includes any significant moles, scars or existing tattoos. I will sometimes draw a rough layout of my intended design in a contrasting color to my contour lines, to establish the proper flow and fit to the body. When your drawing is finished, take an appropriate-sized piece of contact paper and, before peeling off the backing, lay it on the skin to determine where any excess bits can be cut and trimmed from the paper. After trimming, peel off the backing and lay it on the skin, pressing firmly, to be sure it adheres to all parts of the marker drawing. It may be helpful to have another person help with larger pieces, as it can be cumbersome with only two hands.

large scale tattoo2 Mapping out Large Scale Tattoo Projects

When you are satisfied that you have gotten all your image adhered to the contact paper, it is time to peel it off. This can be a bit uncomfortable to some people, kind of like peeling off a Band-Aid, and will exfoliate the skin a bit, as the dead skin cells stick to the paper. Most importantly, the marker will transfer over, giving you a very precise, overall layout of the body, and all the information you need to properly render your drawing to fit the body and all it’s curves, bends and odd spots. After peeling off the contact paper, you should lay it out, sticky side down, on clean white paper. Several pieces of copy paper will do the trick, if you do not have large paper handy. People are quite surprised at the amount of surface area contained in a full arm or leg, when it is laid out flat, but you fill find this technique will greatly aid your drawing and layout of large-scale designs.

Mapping out large scale tat Mapping out Large Scale Tattoo Projects

Using this technique in the same manner for planning cover-up work is extremely useful. You can draw directly on the old tattoo(s) to be covered with marker and make it as detailed as you need. Draw in any contour and boundary lines and any other information you see fit, lay your contact paper over it all and make an impression. You get much more accurate results from this method than you can just using tracing paper or referencing photos of what you are covering.

The Art of Squinting by Uncle Tim

For the uninitiated, this may seem like a bizarre topic for “Lettering 101.” SQUINTING? WHAT the Hell? Most of you might be thinking, Tim’s finally lost it. Hang in there… trust me! I remember way back in the ’80s, when I had a sign shop in Monterey, California. Business was booming and I had a big contract with the U.S. Army painting banners for their safety program. They had the usual cliché slogans like “Click it or Ticket” and “Gas and Alcohol Don’t Mix!” Some of them had “McGruff,” the trench coat-wearing cartoon dog, whose slogan was “Take a Bite out of Crime.” There were two dozen twenty-five-foot by forty-eight-inch banners, all with different copy. My shop was a 1,200 square feet; twenty feet wide and sixty feet long, which gave me about forty-five feet of wall space to pin up these banners and lay them out. Of course, being the “Old School” guy that I am, they were all laid out by hand with a three-foot wooden yardstick and a dark-blue Stabillo pencil. No computers needed.

There was a neighboring sign shop about twenty miles away, owned by a friend of mine named Carl. He had a young apprentice named Deano. Deano was a kind of hippie kid who smoked a lot of weed. He would drop by now and then to say howdy and hang out. One particular day he came by, when I was laying out these banners. He leaned back on the workbench (beer in hand) and watched, open-jawed, while I took my yardstick and Stabillo and started laying out these things out with my usual speed. That is, quick!

His employer, Carl, had a sign computer and did everything on it. Carl never laid anything out by hand, because nothing in his shop was hand painted. All they did there was vinyl signs… and it took all day on the computer to lay things out for the plotter to cut, and then Deano would have to “weed” all the excess vinyl and apply transfer tape so they could stick it to the surfaces. So, when Deano saw me layout this twenty-four-foot banner in fifteen minutes, he was aghast with fascination. This, of course was nothing to me, as I watched men layout sign after sign by hand in my father’s old sign shop, and letter them up even faster. By hand! With paint! I remember Deano saying, “Dude! How can you do that so fast and it’s so…..perfect?” What else could I say other than, “Practice, practice, practice?”

IMG 03583 The Art of Squinting

Later, Deano came to work for me and he got the chance to really watch how it was done. Despite the fact that he was a pothead, he learned quickly. After a couple of months, I remember being in the office answering a phone call, when I peeked out the door into the shop, while being on hold. As I looked out, I saw Deano talking to my other employee, Frank, and making fun of me. (They didn’t think I was watching.) He said, “Look, here’s Tim!” and would make a “bucktooth” grin and squint his eyes while rocking his head from side to side.” Frank responded, “Yeah! Ha ha ha, that’s him!” They whooped it up till I walked in and caught them in the act. It got real quiet at first, then we all laughed at each other, while pointing out each other’s idiosyncrasies. We were a fun crew. Then, when it quieted down, I asked them if they knew why I always squinted when I was laying out signs. I told them that I was blocking out all peripheral distraction so I could get a good look at the sign and not just the letters. Did it have balance? Did one area overpower the other? Was the copy all straight and properly spaced? Were all my angles and thicknesses correct? Were the positive and negative spatial relationships balanced? Did the variation in the letter values lend itself to proper prioritization of the copy? In other words, was the important copy prominent and the less important copy minimalized?)

Then I demonstrated on one of their own efforts, to show that improvements were needed and why. I had them both squint to the point where they could not read the copy, blotting out all, but what was basic. With this technique, defects will show up like a lump of coal in the snow. A long time before that, an excellent sign painter/pin-striper friend named Alan Smith and I were doing a sign project together. I asked him which “alphabet” (sign painter lingo for “font”) he thought would look better on the task at hand. Alan replied, “Stop looking at the letters and look at the f-ing sign!” He was right. I was paying too much attention to being all fancy and not looking at the overall design and its effectiveness.

I passed that on to my guys and now it’s your turn. I have provided a sample of a project I am doing for a client’s chest. This is not the final draft. I found a couple of flaws in it. Let’s see if, by using my technique, if you can spot them. When laying out tricky arched scripts like this, you can’t always spot flaws, because there is a lot going on here! Step back about three feet away from your computer screen and squint. Squint hard enough to block out all but the letters, without actually being able to read it. Imagine it ALL as filigree. Try to imagine the image as a whole and see what items are off in the design. I know what they are… do you?

Hold your pencil light and have fun.

—Uncle Tim

Developing a Style by Larry Brogan



Every artist wants to be recognized for their art and they want it to stand out among all others as distinctively their own. In the world of tattooing, you will find many artists whose work is as recognizable as their names, such as Guy Aitchison, Paul Booth and Joe Capobianco. People like this may have been born to be artists but the skills they posses did not come easy. They where developed over decades of constant study and practice with a pencil and paper. Nearly any visual art starts off as a drawing, be it a quick thumbnail sketch or a fully rendered, meticulous design. By studying the work of artists they admire and borrowing from everyday influences like fashion magazines, horror movies and even the texture of the nature around us, artists piece together a mixture of what they observe, along with the spark that resides within their own mind, body and soul. If they dedicate themselves, hopefully what emerges is a signature style all their own that, at a glance, people know who created it.

All too often, people take the easy way out and blatantly rip off someone else’s art, calling it their own or deliberately copying an already existing style instead of putting in the time to bring out the inner artist in themselves. Just like the music world, along comes a fresh new band with a catchy sound and a string of hits and the next thing you know there are twenty other bands on the radio that sound just like them. We see it in the tattoo industry all the time. Some new kid comes around with a sick new look and is the talk of the scene. The next thing you know, the tattoo magazines are flooded with a dozen lookalike artists, usually falling short of the original.

Drawing does not mean simply tracing an existing image; it is using your art stills to free hand draw what you see in life, from a photo or just out of your head. By developing your ability every day in your sketch book, you will see gradual improvement and, eventually, you may evolve into an artist others want to emulate.

Next time you find yourself wasting the day away playing video games, goofing off on the Internet or spanking the monkey, just remember there is no limit to what can be accomplished artistically, if you practice enough. By drawing, drawing and drawing some more and absorbing all of your outside influences, along with the talent and skill within yourself, you should be able to generate your own spin on things and create a look and style all your own.

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